[2/3/21] – President Biden Signs Executive Order “Banning” Private Prisons

President Joe Biden, shortly after taking office, fulfilled one of his campaign promises: to end the federal government’s use of private prisons; prisons that have been found to be “less safe, less secure, and less humane” than their public counterparts. The Executive Order, which was signed on January 26th, directs the Attorney General to not renew Department of Justice contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities. Private prisons that are contracted by agencies not under the purview of the Department of Justice, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s immigration detention centers, were not addressed in the order. The order, which President Biden referred to as a “first step to stopping corporations from profiting off of incarceration,” has been praised by some criminal justice reform advocates, while others have argued that more needs to be done to address the issues concerning the privatization of the criminal justice system.

How large is the private prison population in the U.S.?

The private prison industry, according to an article written by the ACLU, was practically non-existent in the 1980s. However, the War on Drugs and the harsher sentencing policies that were enacted as a result, led to an increase in incarcerations in the U.S. and the subsequent growth of the private prison industry. The Sentencing Project reportedthat since 2000, the number of inmates incarcerated in private prisons across the U.S. increased by 39.3%. Although the population saw a decline of 11.3% in 2017, the private prison population in the U.S. is still considered to be the largest in the world. On January 28th, a couple of days after President Biden signed the order, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported a total 152,071 federal inmates, of which 9% or 14,122 are detained in private prisons.

As President Biden begins his second week in office, the question of whether he will now address the private detention centers housing undocumented immigrants, remains.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom.

The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.



  • Writing: Explain how President Biden’s decision to end the Department of Justice’s use of private prisons is intended to help further racial equity.
  • Debate: Do you believe that much more needs to be done to address the privatization of the criminal justice system?  
  • Poll: President Biden should expand the ban on private prisons to include the detention centers holding undocumented immigrants. (Agree or Disagree).
  • Short Answer: Discuss the factors that contributed to the large size of the private prison population. 

Cover Image: © iStockphoto.com/YingYang

Which component of the criminal justice system would you like to see more coverage of in future Lecture Sparks?

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